Shipping can do better than nuclear power
7th April 2011 22:49 GMT

The nuclear catastrophe in Japan has focused increasing attention on radiation impacts to the marine environment and cast into question the use of nuclear power by commercial ships.

On Thursday, March 31 seawater samples taken near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant contained levels of radioactive iodine almost 4,500 times above the safety standard.  By April 5, Tokyo Electric Power Co. identified iodine-131 at 7.5 million times the standard in seawater taken close to the complex.  Radioactive iodine is known to amass in the thyroid and cause cancer.  

In addition, levels of radioactive cesium have been detected at 1.1 million times the legal limit in seawater adjacent to the nuclear facility.  Cesium-137 is particularly harmful to marine life, because it is absorbed by marine plants and accumulates as it makes its way up the food chain.  It also has a long half-life: 30 years.

The dispersion of radioactive substances, whether via steam release, reactor cooling water runoff, or the unprecedented dumping of more than 11,500 tonnes of radioactive wastewater into the ocean, poses a significant risk to the marine environment, even beyond the area adjacent to the crippled nuclear plant.  

The breadth and severity of radioactive contamination, combined with the dynamic nature of the marine environment - including the ability of fish and other marine animals to swim great distances - could negatively impact Pacific marine ecosystems in the near and long term.  

A test last week indicated that cesium-137 levels in a village 25 miles away from the Daiichi nuclear complex surpassed the standard which the Soviet Union used in recommending the abandonment of land surrounding the Chernobyl reactor.

This disturbing finding raises the possibility that radioactive contaminants such as cesium-137 could be present in waters outside the boundaries of the current fishing ban, which only extends 12 miles from the plant.  Also troubling is the fact that a fish caught 50 miles from the Daiichi nuclear facility earlier this week contained iodine-131 levels that exceeded subsequently established radiation limits for fish.

The tragic incident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant also has thrown a spotlight on the issue of nuclear power as an energy source for commercial ships.  The classification society Lloyd’s Register has been a proponent of nuclear energy for the sector, in part because of claimed greenhouse gas benefits from using nuclear energy relative to relying on traditional fuel sources.  Other groups such as the Cosco shipping company, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and World Nuclear Association also have touted nuclear power’s low carbon profile.  

However, particularly in light of recent events in Japan, commercial shipping should steer clear of nuclear power.  Even in countries with substantial expertise and protocols regarding nuclear plant safety, major accidents can occur.  

Plenty of other energy alternatives exist for the industry, including clean, renewable wind and solar power, and opportunities abound for increasing fuel efficiency through technical and operational measures.  In fact, according to a 2009 IMO study, such measures could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 75%.  

Instead of regressing to a technology plagued by safety, security, and disposal concerns, the shipping sector should focus on 21st century solutions that will enable it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and not jeopardise the planet.  Friends of the Earth firmly believes, and will continue to espouse, that nuclear power has no place on the path toward clean, sustainable shipping.

John Kaltenstein,
7th April 2011 22:49 GMT

Comments on this Blog
Heinz Otto
10th April 2011
Thanks, John Kaltenstein,
I fully agree with you: nuclear shipping should be banned from IMO...

since the GMEC-2010-congress had spoken about this, see:

PDF] 8 gmec PM panelintroductionDateiformat: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Schnellansicht
Dr. (h.c.) Kai Levander, SeaKey Naval Architecture, Turku, Finland. • The merchant ship of the future ... The potential for nuclear propulsion at sea ...

I´ve started an own panel about shipping future, see: and then SMM-2010, Result (only in german language): we have to go for with WIND, SOLAR, SOLARMETHANE.....but who is the first mover, the first winner?
Greetings from
Heinz Otto

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